Dublin Book Festival: all changed, virtually the same

This year’s programme has had to go online but is as ambitious as ever and international

Books have many purposes – educational, developmental, inspirational – but more often than not, they offer us a form of escape; a chance to immerse ourselves in other lives, other worlds. During the past few months, their importance and place in our lives have become even more central as people found more time (and need) to escape our “new normality”. We have all experienced fear, loneliness, sadness and grief during these times, yet we have adapted, innovated, imagined new ways and pulled together.

The Dublin Book Festival is no different. Since 2006, the festival has celebrated Ireland’s incredible wealth of writers and publishers. Every year, over 4,000 people flock to venues throughout Dublin to meet Ireland’s finest writers and illustrators. To be inspired and learn what inspired them.

For 2020, the Dublin Book Festival, while totally virtual, is totally committed to delivering on these objectives!

It took all of us involved time to process that we would not physically see families pack into venues, watch as people met their literary idols or feel the nervous excitement of a new author’s first book reading. Personally, I took this new reality hard at first. Could we make a virtual festival work? Would people “show up”?


After many discussions with publishers, retail outlets, venues, authors and past visitors, we realised that this year, it is even more important to continue to celebrate the passion and hard work of Ireland’s publishers and writers.

Through our discussions with other festivals, associations and venues, we decided that this year, the Dublin Book Festival would be the coming together of Ireland’s finest literary festivals, venues and arts organisations: Listowel Writers’ Week, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary; Cúirt International Festival of Literature, who were one of the first to embrace the virtual world of events; Belfast Book Festival, who had to cancel their entire programme; IMRAM Féile Litríochta Gaeilge and Murder One Festival; and partners including Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, Irish Writers’ Centre, Children’s Books Ireland, Poetry Ireland, Fighting Words, An Post Irish Book Awards and many more.

DBF 2020 will be like no other year. The virtual approach means that we are going “international” and people from around the world will be able to join in and get to know some of Ireland’s incredible writers, publishers, literary festivals, arts organisations and venues. We hope our loyal followers will help spread the world to the Irish diaspora and all those who feel an attachment to our Green Isle.

And while we cannot invite people to the myriad of beautiful venues we use to stage events each year, we were keen to continue to work with our loyal venues, so our virtual 2020 Festival will transport our audiences from their home to outdoor splendours such as the National Botanic Gardens, Farmleigh Estate and the Wicklow mountains, and inside the beautiful surrounds of the Museum of Literature of Ireland, National Library of Ireland, Natural History Museum and Kevin Street Library.

So what does the programme include this year?

The festival will celebrate well-known household names, while also shining a light on emerging home-grown talent. We are really excited to welcome Graham Norton for the first time to the festival; he will be in conversation with Rick O’Shea in the beautiful Kevin Street library, discussing his new book, Home Stretch. Niall MacMonagle will be speaking with emerging authors Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Elaine Feeney, Patrick Freyne and Alice Lyons. We are also proud to have the beloved author Marian Keyes in conversation with Irish Times writer Róisín Ingle speaking together about Marian’s recently published Grown-Ups in the stunning surrounds of Farmleigh House. Our long-time venue partner, The National Library of Ireland, will be welcoming Dil Wickremasinghe to interview Louise O’Neill about her new book, After the Silence.

To open the Dublin Book Festival, RTÉ Radio 1 Arena’s cultural guru Seán Rocks will broadcast from the Museum of Literature Ireland for an evening of conversation and music with some of Ireland’s most prolific authors Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry and Christine Dwyer Hickey, with music by Uly.

Families will be able to enjoy plenty of events from their homes including story-telling with author and illustrator Peter Donnelly in the Natural History Museum. Broadcaster and author of The Great Irish Farm Book Darragh McCullough, and illustrator Sally Caulwell, will be introducing us to some furry four-legged friends at Farmleigh Estate. Children will learn lots of facts about farm animals and can draw along with Sally.

We also know that despite months of home-schooling and video classes, it can be hard to get little ones to focus on an online event, so we curated the DBF Bedtime Christmas Stories series which will be broadcast from the festive surrounds of Farmleigh House for five nights during the festival. We hope brief story-times will encourage families to tune in, and then take the experience offline by reading their own festive books together.

And continuing on the theme of nature, Darragh McCullough will be in conversation with John Boorman from the tranquil surrounds of his rural estate in Wicklow as they discuss the influence of nature on John’s work, delving into his new book John Boorman’s Nature Diary: One Eye, One Finger, which was written during the COVID-19 lockdown.

So much has happened in the past six months and people are having to process so much at the moment.

Two events we hope will help in some way are: Dr Malie Coyne, author of Love In Love Out, who will look at how parents can manage children’s anxieties during this time; and Niamh Fitzpatrick talking with Neil Delamere in the National Botanic Gardens on her experience of confronting immeasurable loss and dealing with grief, while finding hope along the way; indeed, this is the theme of Niamh’s new book, Tell Me the Truth About Loss.

None of this would be possible without the unwavering support of our funders Arts Council of Ireland, Dublin City Council, Irish Copyright Licensing Agency, Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. They never questioned our move online, but simply encouraged and supported us as at each step.

We are proud to be able to deliver such a diverse programme of events, alongside so many partners. We hope people will find moments of calm, laughter, entertainment and inspiration during the Dublin Book Festival 2020.

Dublin Book Festival runs from November 27th to December 6th this year as an online festival. For more visit dublinbookfestival.com
Julianne Siron is director of Dublin Book Festival.